Saturday, June 25, 2016

To My American Friends

This is a humour blog. I know my sense of humour isn’t what t used to be, but I still try to keep it entertaining and amusing. I never do serious. I never do politics. But today I am making an exception, for these are exceptional times.

“What Happened?”

This is the question a lot of my American friends are asking. It really isn’t a complicated answer, but it does require some background, so I thought I’d post the reasons here so they could see how something so monumental could come about. This decision will affect, not just Britain, but Europe, America and the rest of the world, so it’s only fair to explain how—and why—we did this to you.

What, really, is the EU?

Here is an ironic fact that was floated around during the lead up to the Referendum: The UK never voted to join the EU. It voted to join the EEC—the European Economic Community—in 1973, and then voted to remain a member, in 1975.

The EU is the self-perpetuating bureaucracy that has grown up from the EEC. So the EU began with its base remit of overseeing free trade and freedom of movement within the member nations, and gradually grew into a monolith that passes laws on nearly all aspects of our lives. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, we have laws handed to us by unelected, foreign bureaucrats telling us how straight our cucumbers need to be, but the EU also has an excellent record on human rights, woman’s’ rights, worker’s rights, the environment, etc.

So, in exchange for the loss of some autonomy, we get to travel, work and live pretty much anywhere in Europe. Going from the UK to live and work in France is no more difficult than someone from New York moving to Pennsylvania. The reverse is also true, and many people from many different European countries now live and work here.

It’s not all good, but the benefits, for most of us, out-weigh the disadvantages. For some, however, they do not. There is a group of people who think Britain should be a totally sovereign nation. They genuinely believe we can enjoy more benefits and better lives outside of the EU. They formed UKIP, the UK Independence Party. Nigel Farage was their leader.

Why a Referendum?

The Referendum came about, not because UKIP finally forced the issue, but due to in-fighting in the Conservative Party. Although it was something the general population were becoming vocal about, there was no real need to hold one at this time. But a power struggle (sorry, I don’t understand all the nuances) forced David Cameron, the Prime Minister, to hastily agree to hold a Referendum.

Consequently, his rival, Boris Johnson, championed the Leave side. This was a political gamble. If Leave won, it would weaken Cameron’s position and Boris could become Prime Minister.

What Remain Did Wrong

The EU: In order to try to avoid a Referendum, Cameron went to the EU to try to agree some compromises with them. The EU refused to budge, showing themselves to be the pusillanimous, smug and self-serving bureaucrats that everyone feared them to be.

Cameron: The PM set himself up as the face of the Remain Campaign. This made people who didn’t like Cameron more likely to vote Leave. The Leave Campaign had no Front Man, so to speak; Boris, Nigel and some other celebrities and politicians campaigned, but there was no central character designed to rally around.

Parliament: In a vote of National importance, more than a 50% win is generally required for the change to take place. No one seems to have given this any notice.

The Remain Campaign Itself: They lied. They lied meekly and self-consciously and their hyperbole came back on them and made people distrust them more. The claims about house-prices, consumer costs, WWIII were all fairly embarrassing.

What Leave Did Right

They lied. They lied eloquently, they lied with aplomb, they lied loudly and often and long enough to fool enough people into believing their lies.
  • -          They said that the $350,000,000 a week going to the EU could go to the NHS.
  • -          They said they would halt immigration.
  • -          They said that Turkey was going to join the EU and that 1.5 million of them would swarm into the UK.

Immigrants and the NHS—two hot-buttons of the British public and the Leave Campaign played them for all they were worth. In short, they told lies people wanted to believe.

The Vote

Despite this, as the country went to the polls, no one anticipated the outcome. It was inconceivable, even to the Leave Campaign. Nigel Farage basically conceded defeat at the start of the “all-night vote-tally” show on BBC, saying he expected Remain to win by a slim margin, as indeed did everyone else.

I stayed up to watch the show, expecting to go to bed about 2 AM when it became obvious that Remain was going to win. Instead, I remained watching, along with the rest of the country, and the newscasters—our jaws getting closer and closer to the floor—as district after district reported Leave wins. I’m glad I did, otherwise I would not be able to believe it happened.

In my view, the Leave voters came in three groups: the True Believers, those who honestly believe a better Britain will come out of this, The “Don’t Like Foreigners” group, who were fooled into voting for something that was not real (I have no data to back this up, but I suspect this was the largest of my groups), and the “Didn’t Know What They We’re Doing” group, who treated this election like a General Election and voted “Leave” just to spite David Cameron or the Conservative Party or politicians in general and basically had no idea what the EU was or what voting to leave it really meant.
I made this chart up, please do not think it is official or represents anything real

 The pundits and the pollsters all took into account the “Don’t Like Foreigners” segment, but no one counted on the “Didn’t Know What They Were Doing” group to be so large. That was where the surprise came in, and why Leave won, and why this should have been a 65%/35% vote instead of 50/50. They should have heeded the words of the American philosopher, George Carlin; “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

As it was, of the 70 to 80% of the electorate who voted, 52% came out for Leave, and 48% came out for Remain—a 4% margin representing around 1 million people. This is hardly a mandate for a change of this magnitude. My feeling is, taking into account the people who didn’t vote and those who couldn’t vote (children, those abroad, etc.) the 36% of the general population who voted Leave are dragging a population largely in favour of staying in the EU, out of the EU.

In short, this was a mistake. And I don’t mean an, “Oh, God, we made a bad decision; that was a mistake!” type of mistake, I mean an, “Oh, God, we made a bad decision by mistake!” kind of mistake.

I truly believe, if they let us do the vote over again next week, Remain would win by a wide margin.

What Happens Now
  • There could be a recession that makes 2008 look like a walk in the park.
  • Scotland may opt to leave the UK.
  • The EU itself may crumble.

 All of this may happen. But then again, it may not.

My Take

Like much of the country, I am shocked. And still in the grip of disbelief that a relatively tiny group of baffled voters can drag an entire nation out of the EU against its will. It doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t seem fair.

But we are where we are. And if it we are here by accident, well, Britain has a rich tradition of having its history turn on lucky accidents.

We need to get over our shock and start looking to the future. There is a lot of optimism out there. The Leave politicians, as it became obvious the Leave side was going to win, were positively bubbling with enthusiasm at the opportunities that await us. Hopefully, they will take the reins and guide us to that new and better Britain they have been promising for the past ten years.

In truth, I don’t think a lot will change. There will be some pain as the UK and the EU work out their separation agreement, as the EU is determined to make us pay (they are going to beat us like a red-headed step-child every chance they get), but this will only serve to show us that we made the right choice. As one politician put it, “If you join a club, and then try to leave that club and they knee-cap you, then maybe that is a club you shouldn’t have joined in the first place. That’s not a club, that’s the mafia.”

If Remain had won, we would have maintained the status quo, and sat around complaining about the EU and looking at the abyss called Leave, thinking, “at least we’re not in there.” But now that we are in that abyss, we have the opportunity to be totally self-ruling, and if our Leave politicians are wise, and hold the good of the British people in their hearts, then things could turn out well.

In a few years time, I think things will be pretty much the same. The UK has a powerful economy and a vibrant financial sector. If there is, indeed, a recession, we will recover. Immigration will continue, both into and out of the UK. Trade will continue. Our financial sector will still deal with the rest of the world. The difference will be that our laws will come from Westminster instead of bureaucrats in Brussels.

What is happening now is the shock of something so unexpected happening, but once that shock is over, people will begin to grasp the advantages, and work for a better Britain.

I have hope. I’m ready to follow. We just need someone to lead us.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The End of The Universe

No, this isn’t about the EU Referendum. If you want to read people’s thoughts on our decision to drop out of the world’s largest economic and financial community to set up a mom-and-pop store on a side-street, you can go almost anywhere else on the web.

Besides, I expect you’re all as sick of pundits second-guessing the causes and consequences as I am, so no discussion of the UE Referendum here. Nuh uh, not on my watch. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the demise of The Rising Universe, aka the Shelly Fountain.

Don’t panic, they mean the fountain. Kevin Griffin and his Cars are safe.
The Fountain has been an ache in the town’s tush almost since the day they bought it 20 years ago. When I first arrived, the romance was still pretty fresh and the Fountain was well-cared for, happy, and busily going about its daily business—being a landmark of the town.

See, you think of Horsham, you think of The Fountain. (Ironically, I found this article on the day
they started taking it down.)
But, alas, the romance was not to continue in that happy state for long. You see, The Fountain was a bit like a trophy wife. Horsham was lucky to get her. In fact, she’d had her eye on a much sexier town (Cambridge) but he saw her for what she was and wisely decided to stop answering her texts. So she came to Horsham. The conservative market town couldn’t believe his luck and took her on before realizing what a high maintenance gal she was.

And that’s when things began to fall apart. “You never pay attention to me anymore,” The Fountain would whine. “You need to spend more money on me. I can’t go out looking like this! I need a new dress.”

So stodgy old Horsham, unable to appease his glamorous young bride, began spending more and more time in his garden shed, paying little attention to his increasingly acrimonious wife. (One has to wonder if he discovered her secret, but ignored it and hoped it would go away.)

[Begin Long Side Note]

The Fountain’s secret, by the by, is extremely well kept. I think I am the only one who knows it. Well, me and my barber. I wrote a blog post about it back when Horsham finally cut off The Fountain’s allowance and they began having sparky conversations about where their relationship was going. This happened, I might add, some seven years ago.

But I can’t blame Horsham for taking so long, though; nothing like The Fountain was likely to come along again and I’m sure we’ve all let an old romantic partner hang around even though the relationship has become toxic. You know it’s over, but you don’t have the courage to put a bullet through its head. (The relationship, not the partner. Unless, of course, you’re in Texas.) Relationship Inertia: we’ve all been there.

Here’s the link to that post, if you can’t figure out The Fountain’s secret for yourself. Skip to the bottom, it’s a long and rambling post and only tangentially about The Fountain.

[END Long Side Note]

Anyway, something finally snapped and Horsham has given The Fountain the shove. In truth, it never could have worked. Horsham was disillusioned with The Fountain and lacked the will to keep Her in the style which she demanded. So she’s gone. She’s left a hole, but time and some emotional distance will help fill that in. Not to mention a few Council Workers.

Taken today: Yeah, she’s a planter now. How fitting.
So now it’s over, and Horsham is left shaking his head, wondering what he could have done to make it right. But it’s sort of like the EU and the UK. At first the UK was treated well and things were going along smoothly, but then the EU got a little...bossy. It wasn’t much, at first, just the usual, “I don’t want you wearing that dress. Why did you put on that shade of lipstick? Are you going to make me punish you? It’s not my fault, you know, you make me do it…”

And soon EU was treating us like his bitch, and, well, where do you turn? Who can you tell? Oh, it was so…humiliating…(sniff)…sorry…sorry…

(take a moment)

Anyway, like Horsham, UK finally put her foot down. She arranged an intervention and, gripping ‘the talking pillow’ in her lap, she told her pushy boyfriend just what she thought of him.

Taken Last Week: The slowly decaying fountain, or a metaphor for the EU.Take your pick.
So the EU—um, I mean, The Fountain, this is about The Fountain—is gone now. Those long painful years of having the external reminders of a shattered relationship staring Horsham in the face are now over, and already the Bishopric looks a lot nicer. So, well done Horsham and Fountain, for finally working out your differences and moving on.

Let’s hope the same happens for EU and UK.

If you’re been effected by any of the issues raised in this blog, please visit:

Relationship Violence
Signs of Domestic Violence

or call the HotLine: 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Distress Signals

This is not a book blog, so I don't often review books here, but I am making an exception for this one.

Distress Signals is the debut novel of Catherine Ryan Howard. It is a solid thriller with an unlikely protagonist and a unique setting. The writing is tight and fast-paced, and the story intriguing enough to keep me reading long after I usually stop.

Distress Signals concerns a disappearing girlfriend (Sarah), her just-about-to-be-a-famous-writer boyfriend (Adam) and his efforts to track her down. The tension is ratcheted up by Adam having only a week to do the rewrites on his first movie script and, if he misses the deadline, he loses the contract and the 6-figure advance and any chance of working in Hollywood again. As a writer, this really concerned me, and I kept mentally shouting at him, “Do the rewrite! She'll still be missing next week! You can look for her then.” A bit cold, I know, and fortunately, Adam didn't see it that way.

His search leads him to the cruise ship Celebrate, and the deeper he delves, and the more lies he uncovers, the more he becomes convinced that Sarah did not simply do a bunk, but was the victim of foul play. And when, at last, he finds someone who believes him, someone who has had a similar experience to his, someone who he can join forces with, things only get darker and more sinister.

In a desperate effort to uncover the truth, Adam and his new ally book onto the Celebrate to find and confront the killer. But the showdown is not what they expect.

And the rewrite is still not done.




Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Some of you may recall a post I wrote back in the autumn of 2014 detailing my decision to store my journals in my in-law’s loft. The rest of you, take your Omega 3 tablets and have a look at this. Or not; really, there’s no need to remember everything. Which is sort of the point of this post.

The takeaway topic of that previous post was this: although I was willing to physically part with the journals, I was not yet at a point in my life where I felt ready to throw them away. (Well, that and the realization that—as a younger man—I was a bit of a muppet.) Turns out, that day came sooner than I thought; my therapists would be so proud.

A number of factors went into this decision, none of which are relevant, but once arrived at, I could not implement the solution fast enough, and until I did, I lived in fear that they might lie forgotten in my in-law’s loft, only to be uncovered decades from now by some hapless new home-owner who would unwittingly open them, read a few pages and think, “Who was this asshole?”

Happily, it transpired that I recently found myself alone at my in-law’s house and, having previously secured permission to start a bonfire in their backyard, trotted the numerous volumes out of the house and began setting fire to them, one page at a time.

There they go!
Those of you with particularly keen memories are now saying (Don’t deny it, I can hear you), “But you took photos of all those pages, so you’re not really destroying them!” Fair enough, but I don’t count digital images as a permanent copy (or more to the point, one I, or anyone else, is likely to read) and I fully expect they will find themselves on the business end of a DELETE command fairly soon.

Besides, digital copies don’t weigh anything, they don’t take up space and they don’t follow me around from abode to abode and continent to continent, growing year by year like the money boxes shackled to Marley’s ghost.

He ain't heavy, he's my journal.
And so, on a sunny afternoon in suburbia, I fed my life to the flames, occasionally glimpsing, on those pages, memories, long forgotten, that returned to me one last time even as the fire consumed them:

The entry I wrote while sitting in a graveyard on a sombre, November afternoon, with skeletal trees silhouetted against a leaden sky and dead leaves scattered among the tomb stones, which stirred an aching melancholy.

The time my friends and I sat up all night talking, then decided to go to a local beauty spot to watch the sun rise, only to discover we were facing west.

The heat of sunbaked macadam burning the soles of my feet as I walked to the local (only a mile and a half away) swimming hole.

The sudden, shocking chill of the Kinderhook Creek as I jumped from the rope swing into the green water.

The way the sunlight glinted off her hair.

The light in her eyes.

The turn of her head.

These, and many others that did not even get a final perusal, were snuffed out in the inferno, making me wonder if I was killing them, or if—no longer remembered—they were already dead. Whatever the case, one by one they flared, curled to cinders and became irrevocably lost, and their downy ash rose with the smoke, swirling through the air like a blizzard, further and further across the neighborhood, making me wonder how long I could expect to get away with this before someone called the fire brigade.

But no sirens sounded, and no police arrived with a ‘cease and desist’ order and, eventually, as I consigned the final pages to the flames, I felt lighter, and yet more whole. Who I am, what I am, now resides wholly within me. I am now the sum of what I hold in my mind, and not the product of millions of unread words mouldering in an attic. And even as these memories fade, it will be those I hold on to that will make me me.

I left the fire then and returned to the binders. Once heavy and significant they were now merely husks that had, at one time, held my life. Their time was over, their importance erased, their task complete. I threw them in the bin.

And then, for a time, I watched the fire die and turn to embers while, all around me, my memories settled like snow.